June 24, 2012

The Week That Was

Posted in Celebrations, Good news stories, Language, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers tagged , , , at 5:35 am by Sue Hine

Whew!  The excitement and hype of Volunteer Awareness Week has come to an end – though I hope the messages of appreciation have gone far and wide, and will linger in the ears of volunteers for a while to come.

This year the Week generated more participation and enthusiasm than I have seen in years.  Press releases continued to be issued throughout the week, from such diverse organisations as Department of Conservation, Age Concern, and Coast Guards.  On Facebook there were dozens of daily entries inviting you to check the ‘like’ box, because they were highlighting an event or acknowledging the extent of volunteer service.  Newspapers ran articles on volunteering and management of volunteers, and occasional stories of volunteer experience.  There were also advertisements of appreciation, from a wide range of organisations, alongside invitations to volunteer.

There was little public proclamation from volunteers themselves. You had to be at one of those functions where awards were handed out and where the stories were told.

“It’s very nice to be appreciated,” said recipient Brenda Segar, 71, of Parklands.  That was on the front page of The Press, about Volunteer Canterbury’s award ceremony.  Another item reported on the 82 year old woman who was too busy volunteering to accept an award for her work.  “I don’t do it for reward”.  She likes doing things for others. “This is most enjoyable. I get home on a bit of a high afterwards.”

I wish we heard more from all those younger generations of volunteers who are filling the ranks in increasing numbers.  Volunteering is not just for the olds!

The story of matching organisation need with corporate interest and volunteer support was recounted at a Wellington function to celebrate the Nikau Foundation Corporate Challenge 2012. There could not have been a more literal example of building communities than the alliance between Habitat for Humanity, and the volunteer engineers from Beca.

In all the hoop-la and speechifying I could still hear the platitudes and clichés about volunteers and volunteering.  There were some new buzzwords too.  I wish we could find the slogans that offer genuine meanings of volunteering.

However, my media-scanning over the past week has gleaned some thoughtful and honest representations of volunteering and the relationship between volunteers and the organisations they serve.

Volunteers make the world go round, which is another way of saying Volunteering is Fun; it’s going and doing.  Volunteering is not the last word saving the world or being indispensible: it is being human, and being involved in community.

Volunteers demonstrate commitment and dedication and passion and skill, and they choose to show us how. (Plunket Society)

Volunteering and volunteer organisations are an important part of the fabric of New Zealand (Citizens Advice Bureau).  Yes!  A fabric is made up of warp and weft, and colour and design, length and breadth – all the multiple dimensions we can find in our communities.

Connection is the heart of volunteering   There is resonance here: Connection speaks of interaction, and a linking with other parts of societal structures – the political, economic and cultural.  This, from the Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector who concludes:

“As a short-cut for describing the outcomes achieved by the volunteering sector, we often use descriptions like ‘improving social cohesion’ and ‘strengthening communities’. What that really means at a personal level is that volunteers are creating relationships and enriching people’s lives, including their own, as they contribute their time and effort to making New Zealand a better place.”

There we have it then, a simple equation:

Volunteers + the organisation (good leadership and management) = Building Communities

June 17, 2012

Let Us Now Praise Volunteers, and Those that Begat Volunteer Organisations*

Posted in Best Practice, Celebrations, Good news stories, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers, volunteer experience tagged , , , , , at 3:20 am by Sue Hine

We’ve been talking up Volunteer Awareness Week for weeks.  Now let’s unfurl the banners, deliver the speeches, do the award presentations and the street parades, and read with pride the full-page spreads in our newspapers and the online affirmations about community organisations and the work done by volunteers.  Let the party begin!

Let us also hear the voices of volunteers, recording the delight they find in their work, and the personal and professional gains they make through their volunteer experience.

Volunteers involved in New Zealand’s biggest exercise in event management, the Rugby World Cup have a few things to say, in a recently published report:

“My fellow volunteers – they were all wonderful people and extremely generous with their time and energy – this feeling spread amongst the team, so everyone stayed motivated and fed off the energy of others.”

“The whole experience, from the information road shows to the training and captain’s run, was amazing. So well organised, totally positive and supportive, I truly felt like an important person in a team for an important event. I was VERY proud to tell people I was a volunteer for RWC 2011!”

At Volunteer Centres around the country the work of recruitment and referral of volunteers is their core business.  The quotes that follow are drawn from Volunteer Wellington publications.

“Volunteering has given me a chance to merge properly into the local community”

“Volunteering was a great stepping stone to help get from A to B, to make the big transition into paid employment.”

“Volunteering makes me a better person to be around.”

“It’s interesting, varied, challenging and rewarding too.  I’d recommend volunteering to anyone.”

I am told more stories from a community organisation involving large numbers of volunteers in a wide range of roles:

“I got a job, and I’m studying at Polytech, all because the organisation gave me confidence to believe in myself and my abilities”

“I’m working as an ESL teacher now – all because I volunteered and the organisation acted as my referee”

Then there are the corporate volunteers, where businesses support employees to volunteer in the community.  It might be for a fund-raising event, or a day-long conservation project working on improving a particular environment, or offering professional expertise to an organisation.  Here is what the organiser of one company’s volunteer projects says:

“This is a community-minded company.  The people here care about the community and volunteering.  My bosses leave me to make it happen.  It is very much their interest that drives our volunteering: it is their way of giving back to the community.”

I raise a flag too for the unsung volunteers in our communities, the huge population of informal volunteers whose voices are not often heard in public, nor their deeds loudly proclaimed.  These are the people who look out for their neighbours, the clusters of small organisations who take the initiative to restore a waterway, to plant a hillside, those who run a sports team, develop a programme for young people, or the young people themselves who fundraise to help the cause of their choice.

If you ask them why you are likely to hear statements like these:

“It’s what you do – it’s part and parcel of living in this community”

“Giving is also receiving.”

“It’s easy to write a cheque, and it’s much more satisfying to give your time and skills to doing something money can’t buy.”

This week is also a time to acknowledge the organisations that give volunteers such opportunities.   Here are a couple of testimonies from volunteers, drawn from Volunteer Wellington newsletter (Dec/Jan 2012).

“Volunteer work has to have purpose and be well managed, so that people know where they stand and how they are making a difference.  Then they will be committed.”

“The people and managers at all the places I volunteered gave me a feeling of belonging.  I always felt I was treated as one of the staff – properly equal.”

These are samples of the stories you will hear from volunteers.  They come from different directions, representing different interests and different reasons for volunteering.  They are also the stories about building communities, contributing to that interlocking honeycomb pattern that is our logo for this week.

So the joy of volunteering, the learning, the life path development, the social networks and the individual achievements illustrate the importance of (1) a switched-on manager of volunteers, and (2) an organisation that understands and fully appreciates the true value of volunteer contributions.

Volunteers + the organisation + good leadership and management = Building Communities  

*  Those who notice the adaptation of a biblical quote will also recognise that Volunteering has biblical dimensions.


June 10, 2012

The Changing Volunteer World

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Leadership, Leading Volunteers, Managers Matter, Professionalism, Recognition of Volunteering tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , at 4:06 am by Sue Hine

Nothing can be certain, said Benjamin Franklin in a letter written in 1789, except death and taxes.  I am surprised he did not include ‘change’ in his aphorism.  He lived through a fair bit of historical change himself, in his enterprising career and as a Founding Father of United States, and he must surely have seen what was coming to France when he wrote his letter.

Well – change in the not-for-profit sector, and in volunteering, is all around the world at present.  I read the exhortations for managers of volunteers to get up to speed with social media – for everything from organising fundraising events to volunteer recruitment, and for regular organisation promos.  And for networking and conversations on common interests for managers of volunteers.

I read about the impact of generational differences and the statistics on who volunteers and what for and why.  Short-term, time-limited assignments please.  A specific focus, relevant to my skills. Or please, some work experience that will get me a job (when you give me a reference).  There are significant increases in prospective volunteers out there.  They are clamouring for roles – particularly the younger age groups.  And despite the huge bubble of older people, the baby-boomers, newly retired, this cohort is not rushing to fill the ranks of volunteers.

There is no denying the global financial crisis (GFC) is creating change, forcing governments to downsize, to rethink priorities for community support and development.

Change is coming from another direction too: the ethos of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is generating waves of corporate volunteering.  Corporates are going beyond conventional sponsorship and funding grants: active partnerships with non-profits are being pursued.  Even ‘Philanthropy’ gets a new connotation, loses its original glow of generosity, munificence and beneficence.  Now philanthropy is about venture capital for social change.

A whole new way of looking at the community and voluntary sector is evolving.  The social value of volunteering is increasingly seen in economic terms.  We trumpet the significant contribution volunteering and the NFP sector makes to GDP.  We are trying to improve reporting on volunteer impact beyond numbers and hours and donations in kind.  We look for ways to measure the social return on investment (SROI) in volunteering.  The word ‘social’ starts appearing in front of words I thought only bankers and accountants used: capital, innovation,  investment – and even New Zealand’s OCVS has a raft of papers and information social finance and social enterprise.  What will these terms mean for volunteers and
the community sector?  They sound good, but will they really do good?

Well – if we want to get volunteering and management of volunteers properly appreciated and recognised by those holding the purse-strings, then we need to learn and understand this language.  We need to be able to promote our causes and to argue our cases on an equal footing.

Yet in all the heady engagement between the not-for-profit sector and business and government, and with current trends in volunteering, I have not seen specific comment on the future for managers of volunteers.  Yes, we need to ride with changing times, adapt programmes to fit with the expectations of new generations of volunteers, be flexible innovative, creative.  But no-one has raised a direct question of what an alliance between public, private and community sectors might mean for managers of volunteers, and what will happen to volunteering further down the track.

What if CSR becomes the dominant source of volunteers, a formal process that may require a different style of management?  Different from the basic model of engaging individuals who want to ‘help’ add value to an organisation’s services?

That’s when managers of volunteers need to rise to Rob Jackson’s challenge: instead of organisations headed by “someone who knows how to make money … what we need is people-raising skills” (my emphasis).

We have been people-raising for several decades.  We have adapted to major change in the past.  Let’s demonstrate for the new era the know-how and can-do of our management expertise.

June 4, 2012

Looking for an Answer

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Organisational gains from volunteering, Recognition of Volunteering, Valuing Volunteers, volunteer experience tagged , , , , at 4:03 am by Sue Hine

It’s such a simple question.  Quite straightforward.  Should be easy-as to give me an answer.

Why does your organisation involve volunteers?

The thing is, I have put a veto on telling me It’s to save money dummy!  Because I think if that’s the simple answer then why do we employ paid staff?  Why not run the whole organisation on Volunteer Power?  And if you say No way – impossible!  then the ‘saving money’ argument sounds more like that ‘exploitation’ word.

Why does your organisation involve volunteers?  This question is not an idle thought thrown up to make mischief.  Let me offer a few leads to think about.

There are major agencies in New Zealand providing professional emergency services which include significant volunteer personnel.  Think Fire Service, Ambulance, Civil Defence.  Search and Rescue missions are likely to be staffed mostly by volunteers.  The Government’s Department of Conservation includes an extensive volunteer programme.  Yet there are no volunteers wearing a Police uniform.

There are national not-for-profit organisations with annual budgets and turnover and paid staff numbers that put them in the large business category.  Think Red Cross, Cancer Society, IHC and the Churches, for example.  All of these organisations engage large numbers of volunteers.

Why?  Why involve volunteers?

Do volunteers offer something beyond the capacity of paid staff?  Is there something special in the quality of volunteer work?  Is there something unique about volunteers, apart from working for free?

I bet there is no-one out there is saying “The reason my organisation engages volunteers is to help them get work experience, learn new skills, enjoy social connections, or simply because they want ‘to help’”.

Praises are heaped on volunteers, during annual Volunteer Awareness Week, at special functions, in organisation newsletters and in Annual Reports, and in daily ‘thank you’ effusiveness.   Is this recognition a means to engender organisation loyalty, and commitment to participate in the next fundraising appeal?  Or does the praise indicate genuine understanding and acknowledgement of the real contributions volunteers are making to the organisation?

Which are?

I am asking these questions because when you truly understand why volunteers are involved in your organisation then

  • Volunteers are integrated in organisational structure and policy
  • There are no (invisible or otherwise) barriers between volunteers and paid staff
  • Volunteers have a specific function in service delivery: they are not handmaidens
  • Volunteer contributions are acknowledged in genuine and meaningful ways
  • The role of manager of volunteers finds its rightful place
  • And (not least) there will be no more disgruntled volunteers dissing your organisation, and I will no longer find my blog on a bad volunteer experience getting so many hits.

There is a whole lot more that could be said, about history and the evolution of volunteering, about politics and the reality of service contracts, about professionalisation of fundraising (cake stalls don’t cut it any more), and about current trends in volunteering and the rise and rise of corporate volunteering and business social responsibility.  Right now, the important thing is to get the reasoning straight, so the organisation can make more of itself, and so the volunteers make something real of the work they do.